What REALLY happened that fateful night when John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon got on a train from Mckeesport PA to Washington?
Since 2006, screenwriter, director, actor and producer Alfred Thomas Catalfo has had much success, ranging from viral web-based spoofs to many top placements and acknowledgments in screenwriting competitions across the country. Most recently, Alfred won the Director’s Choice Award at this year’s Rhode Island International Film Festival for his short “Split Ticket“, an alt-history thriller with a supernatural twist.
Portions of the film are based on true events; however, Alfred’s imaginative writing and direction take the alleged events to a much more mysterious place, “In April of 1947, just three months after being sworn in as freshman congressmen, Kennedy and Nixon took a trip together to McKeesport, Pennsylvania,” Catalfo said. “They debated an upcoming labor bill before a civic group of 150 people at the Penn-McKee Hotel, then went to the Star Diner for hamburgers. Leaving at midnight, they shared a sleeping compartment on the Capitol Limited overnight train through the Allegheny Mountains back to Washington, where they had a vote the next day. They drew straws for the lower bunk, which Nixon won. I thought that fascinating true event would make a captivating jumping-off point for a Twilight Zone-ish story about two American icons.”
Joel Coen (one-half of the famed Hollywood writing/directing sibling duo) mentioned that a director’s main job is ‘tone management’. With Joel’s perspective in mind, it’s easy to see why Alfred Catalfo’s film was selected for the Director’s Choice Award. Tonally, the film is very consistent even as Catalfo offers the audience moments of violence, sexual tension, comedy, drama and mysticism. Only an expert filmmaker could successfully lead the audience to believe that John F. Kennedy would say a line like “Glad you Quakers know how to throw a punch!”
Since we’re watching actors depict very famous cultural icons, it could be very easy to rely on the audience’s preconceived ideas about these historical figures rather than play with our perceptions a bit. Catalfo chooses to wink and nudge the audience instead of lean into these socialized understandings. For example, the irony of Jack Kennedy responding “Hell No! I wanted to be a journalist…” when asked, by Dick Nixon if his goal was to become the first Irish Catholic president.
Want to see Split Ticket” starring Graham King as JFK and Nathaniel Glein Scott as Richard Nixon? Catch it on the big screen Sunday, September 25, in the 2:45 PM shorts block at Theatre One, Revere Hotel Boston.
Alfred Thomas Catalfo is a New Hampshire-based screenwriter, director, and attorney who previously directed the acclaimed short films “The Norman Rockwell Code,” “Bighorn” and “Rocketship.” He has been a winner or finalist in more than 40 major screenwriting competitions with five different feature scripts.
Top image taken from “Split Ticket” (2016)